Three a.m. and I’m going, stuffing clothes haphazardly in my duffel bag, cash in my back pocket, fear in my heart. A few more hours, a few more miles will buy me some time, just a little. I grab my wrist, re-set my id randomizer. I’m now Konrad Abernnor, MD. It’ll do.
* * *
I’d always been thought strange. When you’re five years old you don’t have the words to tell people. By the time you do you learn to shut up, avoid the trouble, the pained looks. I hate mirrors. Can’t bear looking at people. Their faces never stay the same but change, shift into others, comical to horrific. I always know who the faces are, their names, their histories. I always try to hide it.
I’d slipped many times as a kid. Being weedy and shy didn’t help, especially with the damned teachers.
“C’mon Tim,” Mister Metzler would cajole me over a simple maths problem, “I know you can do better than that.”
I’d freeze, terrified as his face shifted, an old man’s kindly frustrations switching to Khmer Rouge then Hunnic tribesman.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t hurt me Attila please!” cowering, drawing applause from my classmates and a scowl from in front. Although his words were soft, his manner gentle, I always saw Attila appear when he looked at me.
My only girlfriend was worse. Each time she was hurt, and that too often, too easily, the shifting would start until Eeva Yehuda came out, sixteen naked and walking to the chambers at Bergen-Belsen. How could I deny her anything? For six months they called me ‘Jenni’s Bitch’, everything and anything for her at the slightest sign until I paid someone to steal her from me.
I drifted after school then, when it was unbearable, when I was twenty-one and tired of it all, tried to disappear. I stole the tech to keep me hidden, lied and hustled my way in and out of work, then one day lied my way into the monastery.
* * *
Tibetan Buddhists, orange robes and Nikes here of all places. To me none of it mattered. Their faces still shifted, but each face always replaced itself, a little different but the same. I stayed. Said nothing. At first.
Months later with Deprung, watching a sand mandala take shape, a form caught my eye.
“I have not seen this one before Venerable.”
“Humanity’s duality, multi-facet of the now and the always. We are more and less than we seem at the surface.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“You laugh, your cynicism shows.”
“I’m not cynical, I just know everyone is more than they seem. Except you, you’re all what you appear to be.”
“We simply know we are streams of consciousness heading to enlightenment, weaving in and out of this thing called life. You do not.”
That’s when I told him. Everything. I wasn’t met by derision, just acceptance.
“Now not just you but soon everyone. At first just us, just Tibet, but now spreading outside.”
He looked at me strangely. “Yes, sooner not later. You do not know do you? Have you looked?”
“No, why? I am who I am, they’re the issue. If they see themselves as I see them there’s no problem.”
He led the way out the hall, back to the cells. “When this happens, people will see us as we truly are and have been. They will also see themselves but, most unfortunately, not as enlightened beings, not understanding the path they are on.”
We stopped in the communal showers, facing each other, my back to the mirror “They will remember their past lives, the positive part of the irrelevance. But first they will know that part that is negative, the passing pain and injustice. As always they will seek redress. Balance. Revenge.”
Deprung held me at arm’s length by my shoulders. “You know we never seek to harm?”
“Yes, of course Venerable.”
“Then trust me, we will help you in any way we can, you of all people. Your path is hard but short. To start you must know yourself. Enlightenment is possible only through truth. Your denial is a lie. Turn around, see yourself as we do, as the world shortly will.”
Scared that my resolve would fade as quickly as Deprung’s words I turned. I looked back out from the mirror. I was simply Tim, as I always was. Was Deprung well-meaning but wrong? As my gentle cynicism rose the reflection wavered, shifted, clarified. I knew what I was. I knew who I was.
My screams brought the monastery running, broken hands and shredded fingers shattering and clawing the mirror from the wall, showering Deprung with my blood. I sank to my knees incoherent, inconsolable, in a circle of acceptance, empathy.
* * *
I run like I never ran before. Deprung lets me know, always tells me, his networks stretch across the globe and there is little that escapes it.
I have caught furtive, wary glimpses of the unfolding. India was first, suffering, swimming in its own blood, revenge brutal and coarse. Perhaps when they return, when they see the ultimate futility, perhaps it will stop. Perhaps.
I run harder, incessantly. I know what they will do, how they will revisit those days and nights, that suffering upon me. As the awakening cascades across the world they call for it, spell it out, promise it to clamoring billions. Deprung’s network is large, but it is nothing next to theirs. They are watching, continually. And I am careless at times, sleep deprived and terrified.
If revenge smoulders in their hearts it is a flame in the dozen that seek me most; and to the one an inferno, an all-consuming incandescence in the breast I lay against, the hand that gave me bread, the cheek I kissed.
Deprung called. I have two hours.
Jesus just left Chicago.
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